The Lake District

For my purpose work in the Lake District I chose to study the wildlife in the area. Through photographs and observations on each route I noted the different things I saw. This was relatively easy to do as I found that the area was rich with nature. The wildlife proved interesting and it was something that the entire group found fascinating. The thing that made it so much more interesting was the variety of things. There were common farmyard animals but also many other things.

I have, below, compiled information about the nature we saw. I have also used pictures to illustrate the text.

Foot and Mouth Disease

It was obvious when walking, the implication of Foot and Mouth Disease in the area. Many footpaths were closed and walkers were asked to be careful when walking. The situation was very bad although the disease had not had any outbreaks for a while. It was bad in the area due to the amount of farms around and the fact that many sheep roam around in the hills. Our paths were not actually affected but we saw many that were. Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly infectious viral disease in which fever is followed by the development of vesicles or blisters – chiefly in the mouth or on the feet. There are 7 main types of virus, which produce similar symptoms and which can only be differentiated in the laboratory.

FMD can spread by direct or indirect contact with infected animals. Infected animals begin by excreting the virus a few days before signs of the disease develop. Pigs in particular produce large numbers of virus particles. The movement of animals, persons, vehicles and other things, which have been contaminated by the virus, spreads the disease mechanically. Airborne spread of the disease can also take place. Cattle, sheep, pigs and goats are susceptible to the disease and some wild animal such as hedgehogs, coypu, rats, deer and zoo animals including elephants. The disease is rarely fatal, except in the case of very young animals, which may die without showing any symptoms.

The Rabbit

This was seen extremely frequently along the route but we found lots of them at the youth hostel where we acclimatised before embarking on the expedition. We saw them occasionally on the walk, but there was a lot of evidence of their presence on the routes. They are very common in the Lake District due to the amount of food available to them as well as the amount of space that they can live in. There are predators though in the form of foxes.

Rabbits can be found almost anywhere they can burrow; sand dunes, railway verges and even in urban areas. The most suitable areas are those where the burrow area and food supply are side-by-side, such as woodland edge and hedgerows. This is one of the reasons why they can exist due to the frequency of woodland as well as other suitable areas. Open warrens are maintained where good burrowing conditions exist, such as short grass, the Lake District is suitable for burrowing due to the extensive areas of open areas. Rabbits eat a wide range of plants including grasses, cereal crops, and root vegetables and young shoots of meadow plants. They will eat tree bark especially when snow covers other food sources. Rabbits are normally nocturnal but will come out in daylight if undisturbed. During the summer rabbits may be seen which is why we saw them because the days are so long.

Social groups vary from a single pair to up to 30 rabbits using the same warren. The breeding season is mainly from January to August. They start breeding later in the Lake District and other northern areas. Healthy females can produce one litter of 3-7 young per month during the season, which is why the species is so successful combined with the fact that the conditions in the Lake District are so good for the survival. Badgers, buzzards and weasels prey on young rabbits. Buzzards have a strong presence in the Lake District so it is likely that many rabbits die every year.

Foxes, cats, stoats and polecats take rabbits of all ages. Rabbits have no legal protection in Britain and landowners are required to prevent them from damaging neighbours land. They were killed in numbers because of the damage they caused but numbers increased due to the large scale planting of hedgerows, which occurred to a fairly large extent in the Lake District, providing rabbits with shelter and opportunity to burrow in loosened soil; new agricultural technology increased cereal production giving rabbits an easily accessible food supply and large numbers of the rabbits’ natural predators were killed by gamekeepers on new shooting estates. During the war rabbit control methods were relaxed and numbers increased rapidly.

The Grey Heron

I saw the Grey Heron alongside a river on the third day. It was probably therefore looking to catch fish. They are not that common in the Lake District due to the height of much of the area. It was therefore surprising that this was actually seen! They are common around low-level farms such as the one where the Grey heron I saw was. As well as fish, herons eat frogs, mice and young birds. They are one of the largest flying birds to be seen in the British Isles, even though they fly with the head and neck retracted. Feeding activities intensify in the spring when frogs are a popular prey item. Although sticklebacks are available throughout the year, the birds have difficulty seeing them during the winter months.

The Robin

These were seen virtually everyday on the walk due to the fact that they are so common throughout Britain. These were not seen at points on the walk when we were walking at a high level due to the fact that the source of food for it was not there. Robins are naturally inquisitive and surprisingly aggressive. They defend territory by singing throughout the year – even at night in the dark of winter. Young robins lack the red breast, apparently to spare them from the aggressive behaviour of adults in their first few months.

The Blackbird

Blackbirds may be found in a wide range of habitats including dense woodland, coastal sand dunes, farmland, and town and city centres. Most of these mentioned areas are irrelevant but the farmland is certainly not. This was where the above was seen. Almost three-quarters of the blackbirds breeding in this country may be resident.

The Squirrel

These were seen scurrying along the ground around the base of trees and climbing trees. These were seen on two days when we were required to walk through large areas of woodland.

Squirrels are an abundant species worldwide. This is only the common Grey Squirrel. I was unfortunate not to see a Red Squirrel on the expedition. The Lake District is one of the few areas in Britain, outside Scotland, where this species can be seen. The numbers of Red squirrels have declined due to the fact that the Red squirrels have bred with the Grey Squirrel causing there to be no Red offspring so discontinuing the species. As highly adaptable creatures, squirrels have adjusted well to the urban and suburban landscape. Squirrels primarily consume plant matter, and their diet varies with the seasons. They typically eat and store acorns and other nuts underground, which provide them caches of food for the winter. Spring flowers and growing buds are also eaten as the weather warms. In the summer squirrels often eat fruits and berries.

The Buzzard

I have an interest in Birds of Prey so I really enjoyed seeing a Buzzard above a forest area. Buzzards are symbolic of the mountainous region, usually seen soaring majestically, riding thermals without a wing-beat, and occasionally stooping to some prey. These are diurnal birds of prey, with hooked bills and powerful talons adapted to hunting. Identification is difficult as they are usually seen at a distance, with no reference for size, and often silhouetted by the sky. They survive well in the Lake District due to the extremely large number of rabbits living in the area. This is the Buzzards, of this area, most eaten prey. Buzzards have short necks, broad wings and fairly short tails. They’re shaped very much like eagles, but are somewhat smaller and have shorter necks.

The Deer

I was unfortunate that I was unable to see a deer whilst in the Lake District although when walking along a forest path I was lucky enough to see the footprints of a deer.

There is only one species of Fallow Deer (Dama dama) which is broken down into two distinct sub-species; the European Fallow ( Dama dama dama) and the Persian Fallow (Dama dama mesopotamica). It is the European sub-species, which is found wild in Britain today. There are some differences between the sub-species, for example the antlers of the Persian Fallow palmate nearer to the base and the tail coloration is slightly different. However, some Persian Fallow produce antlers matching those of the European and there is great variation amongst individual animals. Fossil evidence suggests that at one time the Persian and European Fallow ranges overlapped or were contiguous, although they are now totally separate. Fallow are currently the most widely distributed deer species found wild in the UK and can now be found in practically all counties of England and Wales.

Herds will also be found in a number of Scottish districts and are resident on the islands of Mull, Islay and Scarba. Ireland has a number of estates where fallow are resident, the earliest introduction being recorded as 1244. Fallow can be found in a variety of habitats but have a preference for deciduous and mixed woodland. The majority of food taken by Fallow consists of grass and herbs with additions of heather, conifer, holly and bramble. Plants, which have been found not to be eaten by Fallow, include ragwort, foxglove and stinging nettle. In areas where these deer are abundant it is not unusual to see a well-defined browse line on trees and shrubs between 1.5 and 2m above the ground.

The Hedgehog

The hedgehog is common in parks, gardens and farmland throughout mainland Britain and Ireland. Hedgehogs prefer woodland edges, hedgerows and suburban habitats where there is plenty of food for them. Due to the large amount of hedgerow existing in the Lake District, the area proves to be a superb location for the hedgehog. The hedgehogs’ numbers increase when new hedgerow was planted in the Lake District to help increase the rabbit numbers. Intensively farmed arable land is probably a poor habitat, as are moorlands and dense conifer forests. They eat beetles, worms, caterpillars, and slugs and almost anything they can catch, but little plant material. They will take eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds though rarely in large numbers and far fewer than foxes or crows. Hedgehogs are partially protected under the Wildlife ; Countryside Act and may not be trapped without a licence from English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage.

The biggest threat to hedgehogs is probably habitat loss, with the change from pastoral farming to arable crops, over the last 30 years. The loss of habitat is less of a problem in this area due to the fact that the Lake District is a national park. The use of chemicals for intensive farming kills the creatures hedgehogs need for food and may also poison them directly.

The Great Tit

The Great Tit is very common throughout Britain and it was seen on the routes everyday. Due to the fact that it lives in a variety of different habitats we saw it in woodland, in meadows and on the top of some hills. It feeds mainly on worms and small insects.

The Horsefly

These were a persistent annoyance on the first day when we climbed Scafell Pike. Despite using insect repellent they still annoyed us immensely and prevented us eating our lunch. It was too hard to take a photograph due its size and speed. The females suck blood from horses, cattle, and humans; the males live on plants and suck nectar. The larvae are carnivorous. Knowing what the females feed on really turns my stomach and that that of other members of the group!

The Bee

Another insect that annoyed me a lot and eventually I was stung! As a group we used some insect cream from one of our first aid kits which solved the problem. Four-winged insect that usually has a sting. There are over 12,000 species, of which fewer than 1 in 20 are social in habit. Worker bees live for no more than a few weeks, while a drone may live a few months, and a queen several years. Queen honeybees lay two kinds of eggs: fertilized, female eggs, which have two sets of chromosomes and develop into workers or queens, and unfertilised, male eggs, which have only one set of chromosomes and develop into drones.

Bees transmit information to each other about food sources by ‘dances’, each movement giving rise to sound impulses which are picked up by tiny hairs on the back of the bee’s head, the orientation of the dance also having significance. They use the Sun in navigation.

The Sheep

A very uninteresting animal but one I saw everyday without fail on all our routes. We saw a variety of different species that farmers were grazing. Various breeds of sheep are reared worldwide for meat, wool, milk, and cheese, and for rotation on arable land to maintain its fertility. The sheep forms part of an industry that dominates the Lake District.

Domestic sheep are descended from wild sheep of the Neolithic Middle East. The original species may be extinct. The dozens of different breeds known across the world were developed to suit different requirements and a range of geographical and climatic conditions. Over 50 breeds of sheep evolved in the UK, but only a small proportion are still in full commercial use. They are grouped into three principal categories.

The hardy upland breeds, such as the Scottish Blackface and Welsh Mountain, are able to survive in a bleak, rugged environment. Lowland breeds include the shortwool varieties, such as the Down breeds of Hampshire and Suffolk, which are well adapted to thrive on the lush grassland of lowland areas. The Southdown, from which many of the shortwool varieties are descended, is known for its high quality mutton and fine wool. The longwool varieties, such as the Leicester and Border Leicesters, were originally bred for their coarse, heavy fleeces, but are now crossed with hill-sheep flocks to produce fat lambs.